Certification/Maintenance of Certification, Definitions

To avoid possible confusion which could result from the use of these terms, the AAFP adopted the following definitions to clarify the distinctions when the terms certification/Maintenance of Certification are used in reference to physicians. (1990) (2008)


Certification is the mechanism whereby nongovernmental bodies recognize a certain level of achievement by those engaged in the practice of medicine. Generally, such achievement is evidenced by completion of an accredited training program and successful performance on an examination administered by the professional organization representative of that field of medicine. Inasmuch as certification is not a function of government, it does not carry with it inherent legal rights and privileges such as licensure does. (1990) (2002)

Maintenance of Certification

The ABMS Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program is a process designed to document that physicians maintain the necessary competencies to provide quality patient care in the specialties in which they have been certified. It is an ongoing process and will require the assessment and improvement of practice performance by physician specialists. The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) utilizes the MOC to continually assess ABFM Diplomates.

ABFM MC-FP, the Maintenance of Certification for Family Physicians by ABFM has four basic components:

Part I - Professionalism

Evidence of professional standing, such as an unrestricted license, a license that has no limitations on the practice of medicine and surgery in that jurisdiction;

Part II - Self-Assessment and Lifelong Learning

Evidence of a commitment to lifelong learning and involvement in a periodic self-assessment process to guide continuing learning;

Part III - Cognitive Expertise

Evidence of cognitive expertise based on performance on an examination. That exam should be secure, reliable and valid. It must contain questions on fundamental knowledge, up-to-date practice-related knowledge, and other issues such as ethics and professionalism;

Part IV - Performance in Practice

Evidence of evaluation of performance in practice, including the medical care provided for common/major health problems (e.g., asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hernia, hip surgery) and physician behaviors, such as communication and professionalism, as they relate to patient care. (1976) (2013 COD)